It was a begin like none different. It was an finish like none different. All of it pointed to an evening like none different—Serena Williams’s curtain-drawing singles present.

Besides, it wasn’t.

Wearing a black, diamond-studded outfit, Serena walked into the 2022 US Open’s opening evening session launched because the “biggest of all time” after a video montage by Queen Latifa on the 23-time Grand Slam champion’s legacy. By then, her opponent, Danka Kovinic had already checked into the Arthur Ashe Stadium, and so did the document 29, 402 spectators ready for the “Queen of the Court docket”—as one banner learn—to mesmerize them for maybe the final time there.

Besides, it wasn’t.

It didn’t matter, actually. The US Open organisers nonetheless went forward with a post-match celebratory ceremony for his or her most revered champion, six occasions at that. As Serena sat on her chair, Billie Jean King gave her early impressions of a six-year-old Serena in an on-court speech whereas Oprah Winfrey narrated a video tribute thanking her on behalf of “all of us”.

Serena spoke herself, posed for a household image together with her husband and daughter Olympia—sporting white hair beads, a la her mom throughout her first US Open title in 1999—and watched the formation of large “We love Serena” placards throughout the sector. The match outcome extra a footnote, the farewell bash for Serena was being performed out in full splendor.

Besides, it wasn’t.

The American gained her first spherical that carried the texture of her final act, beating Montenegrin Danka Kovinic 6-3, 6-3. It was simply her second singles victory this season since getting back from a year-long absence for the Wimbledon, and stored her unblemished first-round document in New York (21-0). The 40-year-old will stroll out alone once more on the Arthur Ashe Stadium—Serena can also be enjoying doubles this US Open alongside sister Venus—for an additional crack at an more and more uncommon win within the second spherical towards the second-seed Anett Kontaveit.

“At this level, actually, the whole lot is a bonus for me,” Serena mentioned within the post-match press convention, her first since saying her determination to “evolve” from tennis in a Vogue article earlier this month.

Since then, each Serena transfer has carried a prefixed farewell time period. Stepping on the courtroom hours after the article was revealed, Serena had been overpowered emotionally in Toronto, breaking down after her opening-round exit. A number of that night by sheer quantity of individuals and magnitude of event on Monday evening in New York.

“Once I walked out, the reception was actually overwhelming. It was loud. I might really feel it in my chest,” Serena mentioned.

“I used to be simply pondering, ‘Is that this for actual? Actually?’ On the similar time, I am additionally pondering, ‘I nonetheless have a match to play, and I would like to have the ability to play as much as this reception.’ It was so loud. I simply was overwhelmed in a great way. On the similar time, it is like it’s a must to be targeted, it’s a must to be laser-focused.”

That she was in a scratchy battle with the world No. 80. The Serena serve currently has been nowhere close to the damaging drive it as soon as was, and the 2 back-to-back double faults within the opening sport introduced that to the fore once more. But after saving a few break factors, the group favorite obtained the early break by operating all the way down to a ball earlier than standing tall on the web. The fist bump was out. The feelings might wait. There was tennis to be performed.

The serve, although, simply wasn’t holding the fort. Serena dished out 5 double faults within the opening set, certainly one of which instantly handed Kovinic the break again and shortly the lead. One thing modified within the sixth sport after a mishit backhand return winner by Serena that obtained her degree once more. From there on she whisked forward, holding to like after which breaking Kovinic, whose personal service troubles started cropping up, additionally to like. After saving a fourth break level with a trademark curling ace down the T, Serena closed out the set with an unreturned serve and a reverberating “C’mon”.

In no way was it traditional Serena, but there have been the odd flashes of yore—like when she pounced on a excessive, crazy return by dashing to the web and crushing the ball away within the first set or when she cracked a backhand return winner on the rise to a feeble serve within the second. As Serena’s serving power and solidity grew—she had three unreturned serves in a maintain to like for 5-3—there was no method again for Kovinic within the second set after being damaged within the fifth sport.

“The extra tournaments I play I really feel just like the extra I can belong on the market. That is a tricky feeling to have. To depart understanding that the extra you are able to do it, the extra you possibly can attempt,” Serena mentioned.

Serena hasn’t explicitly said that this US Open would certainly be her last event, despite the fact that she did whole-heartedly play alongside within the on-court superior goodbye ceremony. “Yeah, I have been fairly imprecise about it, proper?” she instructed reporters. “I will keep imprecise, since you by no means know.”

You by no means know what’s in retailer for her within the second spherical, tennis-wise and farewell feels-wise. What is definite, nonetheless, is that there’s a minimum of yet one more Serena singles match to savour.

“Tonight was all shock, really, in the direction of the top,” she mentioned of the ceremony. “I did not know any of that was taking place. I used to be simply able to do the on-court interview and depart.”

Not so quickly, Serena.

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